PHIL2410 Mind & Language in Chinese Thought

(First semester, 2018–2019 academic year)

(Tuesday 13:30–15:20)

Issues in the philosophy of mind and language played a crucial role in the philosophical discourse of classical China. This course will guide students in reconstructing this role and exploring its philosophical significance by interpreting and critically evaluating selected early Chinese philosophical texts that treat mind, language, and interrelated aspects of psychology. Topics to be discussed include the nature and functions of words and speech; the role of “correcting names”; semantic theory and argumentation; perception and knowledge; the role of language in knowledge and action; and the ontological grounds of linguistic distinctions. Texts to be discussed include the Analects, Guǎnzǐ, Mòzǐ, Mencius, Dàodéjīng, Xúnzǐ, Zhuāngzǐ, and Lǚshì Chūnqiū. Class time will be divided between lecture and discussion. Students will be asked to read primary source texts (available in Chinese and in translation) and participate actively in class discussion.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe selected foundational issues in classical Chinese philosophy of mind and language

  • Critically examine a range of positions on and approaches to these issues and identify their strengths and weaknesses

  • Demonstrate interpretive, analytical, and argumentative skills in oral presentation and writing by discussing these issues and theories in written assignments and tutorials

  • Demonstrate appreciation of the distinctiveness of the classical Chinese approach to mind and language and the similarities and contrasts with Western views

Provisional Syllabus

1. Introduction: Language, Mind, and Dào

2. Zhèngmíng 正名 (correcting names)

3. Distinctions, 法 (models), and Yán 言 (statements) in early Mohism

4. Selected traditional and contemporary Western views: selections from Aristotle, Locke, and Wittgenstein

5. Semantic theory in the Mohist Dialectics

6. Distinction-drawing, models, and argumentation in early and later Mohism

7. Language and Logic in Xunzi

8. Truth in Mohism and Xunzi

9. Knowledge and Error in Mohism and Xunzi

10. The Daodejing and Skepticism about Yán

11. Language and Dao in the Zhuangzi “Discourse on Evening Things Out” (齊物論)

12. Mind and Action beyond Language in Zhuangzi

Coursework and Assessment

Class participation (10%), two take-home quizzes (50%), final paper (40%).